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From a roster standpoint, Chris Bono’s first two seasons in Madison amounted to expert-level triage. Six of 10 weights were manned by a transfer at one point or another over the last two years. The Badgers finished 2020 tied for fifth, so suffice it to say the lineup “survived.”
In the background, though, the recruiting wheels have been churning. After retaining all but one recruit from his inherited 2018 class, Bono added the #7 class in the country in 2019, the #1 recruit from Class of 2020, and he’s got two of the top 50 already on board for the Class of 2021. The Badgers are starting to build a cycle.
The big question for the upcoming season is whether to push all the chips to the center or to pull back, lining up everything for a wave starting in 2021-22. When you sprinkle in all the uncertainty that COVID-19 creates, it makes the question all the more difficult.
|125||2||Ethan Rotondo||RS Junior|
Looking Back: Two seasons in a row, the presumptive starter at 125 has not finished the season for Wisconsin.
Connor Brown, who transferred with Bono, started the 2018-19 season at 125, but injuries and other issues cost Brown the second half of his season. Former Boise State commit Ethan Rotondo stepped in, ultimately falling to Malik Heinselman 8-5 in a match for the Big Ten’s ninth and final NCAA tourney bid.
In 2019-20, it was redshirt senior Mikey Cullen who started the season and wrestled surprisingly well, going 4-3 with a win over an NCAA qualifier, two 1-0 losses, and actual second period wrestling against Spencer Lee! An injury in that match opened the door for Eric Barnett’s redshirt to be pulled, the #8 storyline for Wisconsin last year. Barnett fell one win shy of an NCAA birth as well.
This Season: The two guys who finished the last two seasons remain. Barnett, a Fargo champ and the #36 Big Boarder in the 2019 class, is the obvious choice at the weight, but he has a redshirt available. If this year is deemed one for alignment rather than attack, Barnett might slip on that redshirt from last season and watch Ethan Rotondo man the spot for the upcoming season.
Long-Term Outlook: With two or three years remaining, Barnett is the future at the position. But both Connor Flynn (#21 in the Class of ’21; #4 at 120) and Andre Gonzales (#39 in the Class of ’21; #2 @106) have Wisconsin on their list, so the pressure is on for Barnett to live up to the hype.
|133||1||Kyle Burwick||RS Freshman|
|133||2||Dominic Dentino||RS Sophomore|
Looking Back: After Jens Lantz filled the spot in 2018-19, Seth Gross made the trip east from Brookings and was a presumptive favorite to at least find the podium before NCAAs were shut down. His qualification was the first in four seasons for Wisconsin at 133 and would have been the first placement in five. Before that, Tyler Graff and Ryan Taylor rattled off fifth-, fifth-, third-, second-, and seventh-place finishes over six years at 133.
This Season: Fresh off a trip to the finals of the National Collegiate Open (“Redshirt Nationals”), Kyle Burwick is slated to start for the Badgers at 133. The five-time North Dakota state champ had what can generously be called an up-and-down redshirt campaign, but he finished strong, falling by decision to Michael McGee, who’s now #16 in the country for Arizona State. Burwick faces little competition at the weight, with Dominic Dentino being the only backup for the Badgers across both 133 and 141.
Long-Term Outlook: Like Barnett, the weight is Burwick’s for years to come, presuming he can prove himself worthy to start in the toughest conference in the country. But also like Barnett, there are recruits out there ready to take his spot if he cannot.
|141||1||Trey Escobar||RS Freshman|
Looking Back: Tristan Moran fell by one point in the Round of 12 in 2019 and was denied the opportunity to turn his #9 seed into a place on the podium in 2020. You can now find him donning Askren Wrestling Academy gear, running a location in Madison.
This Season: After the career-ending knee injury to the Class of 2018’s #75 recruit, Jeremy Schoenherr, as well as the transfer of former Old Dominion commit, Nick Termini, the 141 cupboard is bare for Bono and the Badgers.
Dentino, a graduate of Arrowhead High School (the Askrens’ alma mater), will be the only competition at the weight for Atilano “Trey” Escobar. Trey owns a Fargo Stop Sign of his own, one he earned in 2017, but since then, the tides have turned:
- He fell out of the recruiting rankings after injuries washed out his 2017-18 senior year.
- He committed to Navy but never enrolled, taking a gap year.
- He tore his ACL last November at the Cyclone Open, submarining his redshirt season.
Escobar may have the widest range of outcomes among all Badgers this upcoming season.
Long-Term Outlook: Combined with the two prior weights, the Badgers could run the exact same three wrestlers out to the circle to start every dual in 2021-‘22, ’22-’23, and ’23-‘24. Or Bono and co. could continue on their recruiting trajectory and paper over them. One of the major functions of this season is determining if that will be necessary.
|149||1||Drew Scharenbrock||RS Sophomore|
Looking Back: Cole Martin filled this weight each of the last three seasons after moving up from 141 his redshirt freshman year. He was a four-time NCAA qualifier who possibly had the most exciting match of last season for the Badgers (and my personal favorite) when he made a pancake.
This Season: The weight will likely be filled by either Drew Scharenbrock or Dan Stilling, whose brothers spent the better part of four seasons tangling in the Badger wrestling room. Scharenbrock is the favorite, coming down from 157, but Coach Bono has not been shy about pulling redshirts (five times in two seasons). It would not be a stretch to see Aidan Medora or Cole Bavery if the need arises.
Long-Term Outlook: Conspicuous by his absence on this list is FloNationals champ Joey Zargo, who graduated from Bergen in 2020 but is taking a gap year this season. Once ranked in the top 30 of the Class of 2020, he will now align with Hayden Copass and Dean Hamiti as true freshmen in the class of 2021-22. If he is able to return to 100 percent health during his grayshirt season, he is the odds-on favorite to man the weight going forward.
|157||1||Garrett Model||RS Junior|
|157||2||Devin Bahr||RS Junior|
|157||3||Patrick Spray||RS Senior|
Looking Back: No weight has seen fewer Badgers at the NCAA tournament over the last 21 seasons than 157. Wisconsin has qualified only eight times, yielding four AAs, one a finalist.
Last season, Garrett Model, Scharenbrock and Devin Bahr played a little rock-paper-scissors at 157, with Bahr beating Model at the Cougar Clash in December, Scharenbrock beating Bahr at that same tourney (avenging an earlier loss), and Model beating Scharenbrock in the wrestle-off for the postseason spot. All were within two points. Model far outperformed his #12 seed at Big Tens, finishing eighth, but in a six-bid weight, that was only good enough to end his season.
This Season: With Scharenbrock down a weight, 157 is a two-horse race. While Bahr carries the higher pedigree (top 100 in the Class of 2017), Model is the favorite coming in, with a bottomless gas tank and a younger brother in the room to impress! Do not be surprised if early in the season both guys get a shot to prove themselves.
Long-Term Outlook: Assuming he stays small enough, the weight likely belongs to Dean Hamiti Jr. (top 50, Class of 2021), post-redshirt. Wisconsin has plenty of bodies there, though (Medora, Bavery, Cody Anderson, and Gavin Model), and any one of them making a jump and taking the spot is far from out of the question.
|165||1||Evan Wick||RS Senior|
|165||2||Josh Otto||RS Freshman|
|165||3||Seth Vosters||RS Senior|
Looking Back: In 2020, if Evan Wick had gotten a third chance to match his two top-four finishes, it would have been the 13th time in 16 trips to NCAAs that the Badgers made the podium at 165. No team has had more 165-pound All Americans since the weights changed for the 1998-99 season.
This Season: Certainly the weight is Wick’s if he wants it. He is on the shortlist of national title contenders this season. But if the Badgers take the conservative route at 197 and if Barnett follows suit at 125, might the Badgers consider using the Olympic redshirt Wick earned with his fourth-place finish at Senior Nationals? While unlikely, it would make 2021-22 another season with team trophy aspirations.
If Wick went the redshirt route, Badgers would instinctively flock to 165 like the salmon of Capistrano: Bahr and Patrick Spray would come up, Josh Otto and Seth Vosters would be there waiting, and Tyler Dow and Anders Lantz would likely drop down. Yes, 25 percent of their roster (7/27) could go 165 next year!
Long-Term Outlook: After Wick’s time is up, the Badgers will likely turn to Otto or Dow, the latter of whom would probably love the opportunity to deploy some of that US Open-winning Greco arsenal in a size neutral environment, for once! This is also a weight where you would expect to see some focus on the recruiting trail.
|174||1||Jared Krattiger||RS Sophomore|
|174||2||Tyler Dow||RS Sophomore|
|174||3||Anders Lantz||RS Junior|
Looking Back: Last season, the Badgers effectively faced the ’27 Yankees at the weight, squaring off with the NCAA’s #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #10, #16, #18, #19, #21, #24, and #25 seeds in the dual season. Jared Krattiger took the brunt of those 13, leading to a (3-14) record for Wisconsin at 174.
This Season: While Krattiger, a former FloNationals champ, manned the weight for all but four of those duals, Dow and Lantz were both nipping at his heels. All three are in play for the 174-pound spot this season.
Long-Term Outlook: Krattiger and Dow are both sophomores, and this season could be viewed as “make or break.” If they are not the solutions, Graham Calhoun would be next guy up, although it is entirely possible the Badger’s future at 174 is still in high school.
|184||1||Chris Weiler||RS Senior|
Looking Back: In the current weight class era, 184 holds two distinctions for Wisconsin: The weight Wisconsin has most often qualified for the NCAA tournament (17/21 seasons) and the weight with least placements over that time (one, tied). Last year, Johnny Sebastian transferred in, split the season slate with Tyler Dow, and was a #24 seed at the NCAA tournament that did not happen.
This Season: Chris Weiler, a transfer from Lehigh, will fill the spot in 2020-21 on a one-year basis. The former #36 Big Boarder will have very little depth behind him, with only 174s available in case of injury. He’ll look to make the podium after finishing just one win shy in 2018.
Long-Term Outlook: There are two ways to look at it. Either the Badgers have no depth at the weight, and it’s the #1 priority in recruiting, or they could get Airbnb to sponsor their 184-pound spot and continue on the path of renting it out on a one-year basis!
Looking Back: This weight has been a black hole for the Badgers under Coach Bono; wrestlers go in but wins do not come out! They have used five different guys there over the last two seasons and only totaled three dual victories.
This Season: To Braxton or not to Braxton, that is the question.
Certainly, the pride of Parkersburg South would be the best option for Bono this year. But they have big plans for the big guy and have said there is no rush. In a season laden with uncertainty, discretion may prove to be the better part of valor, providing a year to develop.
If Braxton spends his first year on the isthmus unattached, Pete Christensen would get another chance to prove that his #23 ranking was no accident. Meanwhile, that could be the domino that sets in motion redshirting Barnett and maybe even Wick.
Long-Term Outlook: Amos. Next Topic.
|285||1||Trent Hillger||RS Junior|
|285||2||Andrew Salemme||RS Sophomore|
Looking Back: Trent Hillger tallied his second All-American honor in as many seasons, the latter by writers’ decision. That marks the fourth such honor for the Badgers at heavyweight in the last six seasons.
This Season: To start the year, four of the top five heavyweights in the country will call the Big Ten home, and Hillger is one of them. Tate Orndorff and Greg Kerkvliet are not currently in that group, but they will have a say as well. The finishes to Big Ten duals are going to be a lot of fun!
If a fill-in is needed, Andrew Salemme is a 197/285 tweener, so it is not known where he will end up. Jonah Schmidtke is a legacy walk-on and a candidate to have his redshirt pulled, if need be.
Long-Term Outlook: The transition should be a seamless one, as Hillger finishes up his last two seasons while Hayden Copass puts in one last year in high school and a redshirt one. While much is up in the air about the Badger’s long-term lineup, heavyweight is not.
“To Braxton or not to Braxton” will be the driving question, as the Badgers decide whether their 2020-21 season is dedicated to the present or the future.
Luke Louison is an avid Wisconsin Badgers fan and a cheese curd connoisseur. You can find him on Twitter.